Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
In this category with five exceptional, award-worthy turns it's the harridans vs. the helpmeets. Adams, as Charlene Fleming, and Leo, as Alice Ward, are The Fighter's true champion battlers, waging a fierce contest for the soul of Mark Wahlberg's boxer Micky Ward; the appearance of both actresses here is the one thing that could keep Leo, the early favorite, from taking the Oscar. Weaver is all steel and malice as the matriarch of an Australian crime family, and blessings on the Academy for recognizing her work in an exceptional film that has earned barely $1 million at the North American box office.
Bonham Carter, like Christian Bale, has been giving award-worthy performances since the mid-1980s (A Room with a View); she's also been a mad muse (Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland) to longtime beau Tim Burton. Her role as the protective wife of Colin Firth's stammering Prince Bertie is more subtly shaded, and that behavioral delicacy will push her to the back of this attention-grabbing pack. Steinfeld, cast in her first big role at age 13, infused Mattie Ross with a prim persistence that won the hearts and respect of True Grit's surprisingly vast audience. She's an estimable candidate in this category, though because Mattie is unquestionably the leading role, Steinfeld really deserves to be in the (less competitive) Best Actress category.
Snubbed: Wasn't Mila Kunis, as Natalie Portman's rival and possible tormentor, the one Black Swan actress who seemed in control of her technique? Lesley Manville had a blowsy showcase as the pathetic neighbor in Another Year; Olivia Williams won one critics' poll as Ewan McGregor's parttime bedmate in The Ghost Writer. None of these performers won nods from the academy.